Mark Coyle was announced as the University of Minnesota’s athletic director on May 11, 2016. The introduction was highlighted by University President Eric Kaler ripping the state of the men’s basketball program, which had suspensions for off-court behavior and the worst record (8-23) in 120 years on the court.
Approaching two years later, there’s some surprise that among the highest-profile coaches, only the men’s basketball coach — Richard Pitino — has survived.
Coyle fired Tracy Claeys after a 9-4 season in 2016, offering a couple of clichéd reasons for this, but doing so because the empty seats told him a large man with a low-key public personae couldn’t sell football in this crowded sports market.
Then, in a period of 22 days starting on March 21, this came to pass:
• Coyle agreed to pay Don Lucia in full for 2018-19 to facilitate his departure as men’s hockey coach, and replaced him with St. Cloud State’s highly regarded Bob Motzko.
• Marlene Stollings received an offer to be the women’s basketball coach at Texas Tech, Coyle basically told her “don’t let the door hit you,’’ and promptly hired beloved, untested Lindsay Whalen.
Coyle has the personality of a beige wall in public, and enjoys releasing statements over answering questions. He also took credit with Kaler for ending the brief walkout in December 2016 by the Gophers’ football team, when the decisive outreach to the athletes involved neither of them.
What Coyle has been is aggressive in remaking the coaching staff.
He saw the need for an overhyped salesman in football and already had P.J. Fleck in his pocket when the Gophers went to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27, 2016. That’s why he and Kaler looked as if the family dogs had died as Claeys’ team completed a 17-12 upset of Washington State.
Motzko was Coyle’s target all winter, as Lucia’s Gophers continued to play mediocre hockey in front of small audiences. Even with a successful season, Stollings made no connection with Minnesota prep coaches or fans — and it was an easy call to bring in the all-time connector, Whalen, experience and Lynx duties be danged.
Beige wall or not, Coyle has done the job in hiring coaches.
Read Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Other coaches hired by Coyle:
• Wrestling: Brandon Eggum went from interim to head coach in January 2017. J Robinson had been forced out after a Xanax mess among wrestlers.
• Softball: Jamie Trachsel was hired from Iowa State last July, after Jessica Allister left for Stanford.
• Women’s tennis: Catrina Thompson, 33, replaced “retired’’ Chuck Merzbacher last June. A month later, Merzbacher was named coach at UT-Chattanooga.